May 28, 2017
By John Partridge*
Acts 1:6-14 John 17:1-11 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
What does it mean to be “restored”?
There are some excellent clues for us in popular culture on television shows like Counting Cars, American Restoration, and to a lesser extent Fast n’ Loud, American Pickers, and Pawn Stars. On all of these shows the viewers, at least occasionally, get to see old, damaged, and sometimes totally derelict artifacts from our history brought in and lovingly disassembled, repaired, and returned to factory new condition. Often on these shows, it’s all about cars, but sometimes it’s also about motorcycles, bicycles, old signs, vending machines, glass domed gas pumps, and a host of other things. Sometimes the restorations are so beautiful that they actually look better than the originals did coming off the assembly line.
Some years ago, Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican were restored to their former glory by art preservationists. Centuries of soot and dirt were removed, damaged areas repaired, and the colors returned to the bright and vibrant shades they once were. Many people were shocked by the transformation and textbooks about Michelangelo’s work had to be rewritten because the colors that he used were brighter and more “cheerful” than the art world had long believed. What was once believed to be a painting which was deliberately dark and foreboding was in reality full of bright colors that had been hidden by centuries of accumulated soot and smoke from candles and oil lamps.
But what does any of that have to do with the church?
And the answer is… everything.
Let’s begin this morning by reading Acts 1:6-14, where we find the disciples of Jesus asking him a question about restoration that seems to be less than satisfying at first, but which ultimately tells us a lot.
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
Since this conversation happens after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples already understand that Jesus is not a conventional king and does not intend to raise an army, throw out the Roman legions, and rule Israel in the way that earthly kings ordinarily did. The disciples already understand that they are not going to be rich and powerful advisors to the king. And so they want to know when Jesus will restore Israel to greatness. What they seek to understand from their question is simply to discover when Jesus will return to set up his eternal kingdom.
But Jesus replies that they don’t need to know. What they do need to know is that God intends to give them great power through the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they can be witnesses for Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Jesus’ message is that it isn’t important for us to know when he will return, because the important thing for us to know is what we are supposed to be doing while we wait for him to return. Although I didn’t realize that we would be talking about this exact scripture this week, this is the message that I shared with our children last week. We are to begin where we live (Jerusalem), go out to reach our neighbors (Judea), including the neighbors we don’t like very much (Samaria), and from there we are to go out to tell the story of Jesus to the entire world.
It is both interesting and important that the very next part of the story finds the disciples staring into the sky after Jesus ascends into heaven. And as they stare at the sky, angels appear to tell them that since Jesus is gone, and since Jesus will eventually return, they should quit standing around staring at the sky and get to work.
John’s account of this same event includes a few more details saying (John 17:1-11)…
17:1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.
In this prayer, Jesus explains that eternal life is given to those who know God and who know Jesus Christ. The mission of Jesus was to reveal God to the people of the world and he notes that those that follow him also obey him and understand that everything that Jesus has given to them came from God. Finally, Jesus prays that God would protect his followers so that they might become one with each other and one with both God and Jesus.
But the road to one-ness and unity is not a road that is full of rainbows and unicorns where everything is painless and wonderful. Instead, in his letter to the church in Asia Minor, Peter warns the people that life is likely to be more than a little difficult. (1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11).
4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Peter explains that following the way of Jesus Christ, being his disciple, and doing the things that Jesus taught, is likely to not only be difficult, but that we will probably be insulted, suffer in various ways, and that “fiery ordeals” are likely to be more common that rare. Our goal is not to have a perfect life that is free from pain, but to be humble enough to accept God’s guidance and protection. Joining the cause of Jesus marks us as the enemy of evil and the enemy of God’s enemy and as such, we can fully expect to be attacked.
We are, after all, at war.
Peter advises the followers of Jesus Christ to stand your ground, to resist the attacks of the enemy and stand firm in your faith because we know that we aren’t unique and that the followers of Jesus all over the world are experiencing the same kind of problems. I find this advice to be strikingly relevant as we live in a world that seems to continually ask us to compromise what we believe. We are constantly asked to tone down our message because it is too harsh, too difficult, or too judgmental and it would seem that not much has changed. It would appear that our world of the twenty-first century is not that different than Peter’s world of the first century.
Throughout history the believers of Jesus Christ have been attacked and asked to compromise their faith, and to “give a little.” But Peter recommends that we do not. Instead we should stand firm with the faith that we have been given and resist attempts to rewrite and revise Jesus into something that he wasn’t. But to do that, we need to study the word of God so that we understand who Jesus really was and thoroughly understand what it is that he really taught. In the end, Peter says, after we have been allowed to suffer for “a little while,” God will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast.
All of us are familiar with the periodic news stories about this or that Bible scholar, or this or that self-styled modern prophet, who thinks that they have finally figured out exactly when the second coming of Jesus will happen. But the message of scripture is that none of us can possibly know. More than that, it isn’t our job to know. And even more than that, knowing when the return of Jesus will happen is far less important than knowing what we are supposed to be doing in the time that we have before he does.
We are called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ and preach the Good News in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the world. We are called endure criticism, and insults, and tests, and fiery ordeals because we fearlessly do the will of Jesus Christ and carry out his mission. We are called to stand firm in our faith and resist the attacks of the enemy of God. We are called to humble ourselves enough to trust him when we are afraid, to accept his guidance, his protection, and although we humans are an impatient bunch, we are called be humble enough to accept God’s timing.
The message of scripture is that it isn’t our job to know when, but that our focus must be kept on what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime.
When God is ready, Jesus will return to the earth.
When God is ready, Israel will be restored.
When God is ready, we will be rescued, made strong, firm, and steadfast, lovingly restored to the unbent, undamaged, better than factory new, perfect condition that God intended, and ushered into eternity.
Everything will happen when God chooses for it to happen.
But in the meantime… we have work to do.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.